There’s a new dog leash law in the Keys. Here’s what you need to know

Monroe County has reestablished a leash law for animals other than cats.
Monroe County has reestablished a leash law for animals other than cats.

Dog owners now need to leash their pets when walking around in the Florida Keys — even if it’s one of those canines who doesn’t stray from its owner while on a stroll.

A new countywide law went into effect April 23 requiring “animals” in public places to be on leashes. But it’s aimed primarily at dogs.

The county already has strict policies on ferrets, who must be contained or leashed whenever they leave home.

“This does not apply to cats,” said Kristen Livengood, the spokeswoman for Monroe County.

Fines can reach up to $500 and, depending on the extent of the violation, a mandatory court appearance may be required.

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners this month, with County Mayor Sylvia Murphy of Key Largo leading the way, unanimously approved the new rule, which updates Monroe’s already established law that owners must control dogs in public. But before this new leash law, the only required form of control was a voice command.

“We had a loose leash law,” said Tammy Fox, executive director of the Florida Keys Society for the Protection of Animals. “You had to have your animal under some sort of control and voice command was part of that. Now, your dog has to be on a leash.”

Fox gave an example of a dog that can walk perfectly well with its owner without a leash and then approaches a dog on a leash. Sometimes there is a clash, she said.

“It’s really not the fault of the dog on the leash, it’s the one off leash,” Fox said. “It’s to keep your dog and other dogs and people safe.”

The voice command, however, wasn’t working out in several situations, Livengood said. Some incidents involved injury to the unleashed animal, other animals and people.

It’s not a criminal offense, so police won’t be patrolling the streets looking for a lack of leashes. Instead, animal control officers will enforce it.

Dog owners who balk at the leash law will be given a pass the first time, Fox said.

“We would educate them first and then if there’s a repeat offense, that’s when they could start getting fined,” she said. “It’s just like a traffic ticket.”

The law is Keyswide, including the island chain’s five cities, and applies to those municipalities unless there’s a conflict with the municipality’s laws, Livengood said.

Key West and Marathon already have leash laws, but they’re specified to public property. Key West’s municipal code only mentions leashes at city parks — where posted — while Marathon requires leashes at city beaches, parks and school grounds.

Both cities prohibit dog owners from letting their pets run free on public or someone else’s private property without permission but their codes don’t mention a requirement of leashes.

Both cities give cats a pass on wearing leashes while roaming.